Three Species of Aggression, Mostly Male

And a review of Agnès Vardas’s “Vagabonde” (1985)



And a review of Agnès Vardas’s “Vagabonde” (1985)

The French film title could also be translated, “Mona—no roof, no law.” The young vagabond, played by Sandrine Bonnaire, refers to herself as a “camper” in her encounters with farmers, goatherds, academics, housekeepers, nurses, and young men on the make. Her corpse is discovered in the first scene; the remainder of the film traces her story to that discovery. It is an unpleasant story about a rather unpleasant character. Certainly, she shows no gratitude to anyone who helps her. Most people ignore her or give just enough to send her away. She is raped several times, almost dies in a fire, and is nearly forced to work as a prostitute. Vardas clearly wanted her to visit all sectors of society—the sympathetic biologist who feels guilty for not doing more, the philosopher-turned-goat-keeper who, with questionable bona fides, chides her for allowing the trash she has read to create a world-view that holds her hostage; the nurse who thinks of Mona’s life as romantic until Mona gets drunk with the nurse’s elderly patient.

            Mona is a person without worth, either invisible or seen as an opportunity, source of guilt, or recipient of appropriately measured concern. Her careless encounters with men present a discouraging portrait of the possibility of any human engagement without some level of aggression. Perhaps this is what Vardas intended.

            Three species of aggression are particularly noteworthy: unpredictable aggression, predictable aggression, and sanctioned aggression.

            The young toughs looking for hits, lays, highs, and something to steal represent unpredictable aggression. Employers, parents, and caregivers who take it upon themselves to berate, threaten, and punish are predictable aggressors: they have power over their charges and use it in predictable ways. Sanctioned aggressors are those sanctioned by the community to compel others to do something for the good of the community. Here find zealous schoolteachers, like Samuel Butler, Sr.,  headmaster over Charles Darwin, who later said that Butler’s school did nothing for his mind. Here also are police, judges, pastors, militias, and rulers. Merchants who have amassed enough wealth to become corpocrats also seek to be considered sanctioned in their aggression because such classification would show that paying no taxes and meeting no regulations on their exploitations of labor and habitats are for the good of the community—making them ”job-creators,” perhaps.

            The dynamic is worth consideration: humanity divided into the camps of aggressors and vagabonds of no worth. Another depressing French film—one wants a bouncy American-style ending; one gets a corpse.

            Speaking of the body politic, perhaps Vardas had one other thing in mind.

            Thinking back over the film, and the last year or so, it is the women that one notices. Sorry guys, but we seem to be stuck in the three species of aggression. The women in the film—and in the street over the last few years, perhaps even beginning with that first rally in D.C. in 2016—are the ones who notice the invisible people in pain, like George Floyd. The women are the ones who give Mona help—even when she doesn’t congratulate them for doing it.

            Surely The Poor should be grateful for SNAP or Tax Legislation or Low Rent. But if they don’t show gratitude or congratulate us, why, we should back off. Yes?

            Again, over the last months, it is the women who have said “me too” in empathy and justice, who have helped the helpless to vote, or to get PPEs—some of them dying as they do so.  Men expect you to meet conditions—the honor culture, don’t you know—but women seem to give without conditions. And those who make it into legislatures try to make laws that do the same. Something about mercy and justice, perhaps.

            Did I mention that I’m fed up with honor culture, racism, and the three species of aggression? After millennia, let’s turn to the original caregivers for less aggressive solutions to problems created by a long history of violations. Men can learn to follow. We could do worse.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s